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When I Were A Lad
by Sandra Crook

The bowl of fruit stood on the table between us, inviting confrontation.

Two shiny red apples nestled beneath a banana, as yet unflecked by brown spots. And to the side, a plump bunch of purple grapes, edged nestled up to the hairy silhouettes of half a dozen kiwi fruit.

Dad eyed it disapprovingly.

“D’you know, our Shee, that I were twelve year old before I saw my first banana?”

“That’s an old joke, Dad …” I protested.

“And I’m seventy nine now, and can honestly say I’ve never seen hairy bollocks like those before,” nodding at the kiwi fruit.

The boys looked up expectantly, whilst Sophie giggled.

“More tea, Dad?” I offered, picking up the teapot.

“Not if it’s that Earl Grey muck,” he said. “Don’t you have any plain Yorkshire tea?”

“That’s what I gave you, Dad”.

Dad’s visits were a source of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I didn’t have to trail 150 miles up the A1 and back in the day, but on the other, I did have seven days of relentless “when I were a lad…”

“You coming with us to the swimming baths, Grandad?” asked my youngest.

“I’ll say I am,” said Dad, “I’ve brought me trunks.”

“Oh I don’t think you should …” I began, but he cut across me.

“Don’t start, our Shee, I’m not decrepit you know.”

At the baths, Dad disappeared into the changing rooms with the boys whilst I helped Sophie change. When we reappeared, Dad was already parading up and down the poolside, his knitted woolly trunks offering a montage that could solidly compete with the fruit bowl at home.

‘How thin he’s become,’ I thought, studying his stick-like limbs, dotted with the bruise marks of age, and his narrow chest, festooned in cobweb-like white hair.

“Get in the pool, Grandad,” shouted Gareth, the eldest boy, clearly embarrassed.

For a moment, I thought Dad might jump in, but thankfully he shambled to the steps at the shallow end. Gareth struck out for the deep end, obviously needing to put some distance between himself and his Grandad, whilst Mikey, seeing only a play opportunity, dog-paddled gamely across towards him.

I walked round to the side of the pool where Dad was already shivering in the water.

“Are you sure you should be doing this, Dad?” I called.

He shot me a look of pure malevolence and struck out in an awkward straight-armed crawl across the pool, Mikey in his wake.

“You look like you’re drowning, Grandad,” he shouted loudly.

“When I were a lad…” Dad began, before suddenly disappearing beneath the water with a horrified expression.

Fully clothed I leapt into the pool.

Diving down, I was greeted with the sight of Dad’s narrow shanks snaking along the pool floor in pursuit of his woolly swimming trunks which, softened and elongated by the water, had shimmied down his legs and were floating off to the deep end as though possessing a life of their own.

The pool attendant was not amused when he dragged me out coughing and spluttering, and even less so when Dad refused to leave the water until someone located his swimming trunks.

“That was so embarrassing,” complained Gareth later.

“That were nothing, son,” said Dad proudly, “you should have seen me when I were a lad.”